By Michael Bullock:
Coach: Tim Savage, 9th season (77-23)
2019 record: 10-3 (7-2 Tri-Valley League)
Postseason: Beat Tri-Valley 36-7 in District 11 Class 1A championship; lost to Lackawanna Trail 44-30 in PIAA Class 1A first round.
Passing: Comp-Att, Yards, TDs
Bryce Herb: 140-285, 2,688, 37
Rushing: Att-Yards, Avg, TDs
Jesse Engle: 37-139, 3.8, 1
Receiving: Rec-Yards, Avg, TDs
Jesse Engle: 40-803, 20.1, 13
Key returning players: Bryce Herb, sr., QB-S; Jesse Engle, sr., TE/HB-ILB; Jake Herman, sr., DB-WR; Jackson Yoder, jr., C-ILB; Ezi Hite, so., LT-DT; Hunter Wolfgang, jr., TB/WR-DE; Brayden Shadle, so., LG-DT; Owen Shoop, jr., LG-DT.
Outlook: With a sizable front returning and ready to go after absorbing growing pains and learning experiences, Savage & Co. remain optimistic despite the departures of several productive skill-position players. The return of Herb — especially if the big eaters can keep him clean and upright — and Engle should ease the pressure on the Vikings’ squadron of youthful backs and otherwise inexperienced receivers. Bottom line is this group has more than enough pop to keep those along U.S. 209 fully engaged and plugged in as the Vikings pursue yet another winning season and playoff gold.
3 Things to Know:
1. Herb, Vikings hope to keep attack at full boil: Assuming Williams Valley can log enough game action — and veteran skipper Tim Savage doesn’t believe it’ll take long, even though his program is on hold until after Labor Day due to a COVID-19 flare-up — returning all-state quarterback Bryce Herb could own every one of the school’s passing marks before he turns in his No. 6 jersey. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior, who last season in 12 outings racked up nearly 2,700 yards and 37 scores, needs roughly 1,500 passing yards to unseat his father, Paul, as the school’s all-time leader and seven TD tosses to move past the 53 scores predecessor Levi Engle posted. “Out of all my quarterbacks, he’s probably the smartest,” Savage said. “He understands everything that’s going on. He doesn’t have the athleticism Levi had and his arm strength’s not the same as [Stephen] Sedesse, but he’s close in those two categories. What puts him over the top is the ball’s almost always going where it should go. And that’s great.” Despite the departures of productive tailback Brady Miller and the wideout tandem of Bo Raho and Jayden Cruz, Herb will operate behind an offensive front that returns four starters and welcomes first-year senior Mason Evans (6-2, 240). The return of tight end Jesse Engle is another huge plus for the Vikings’ quick-strike attack.
2. Engle will get plenty of opportunities: Speaking of Engle, the 6-1, 225-pounder undoubtedly will draw plenty of attention from Schuylkill League defenses after grabbing 40 passes for just over 800 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago. And if the Vikings have some difficulty establishing the ground game they need, don’t be surprised if Engle gets a few touches running the football. Engle also is a fixture on the defensive side of the football, starting his career as a freshman at defensive end before moving to inside linebacker prior to last season. Those early opportunities have benefited the versatile senior greatly, as he’s logged more snaps than any of his teammates. “Everyone ran at Jesse his freshman year. Everybody avoided Devon [Rabuck]; and it didn’t matter whether the team was 9-0 or 0-9, no one ran at Devon. So, Jesse got thrown into the fire and he held his own. He made mistakes and he did things wrong as a freshman, but he held his own. And that just pushed him to mature faster,” Savage said. “Moving him to the middle ‘backer spot, he’s running better than he has and he’s got some nice help in front of him. He’s got some big [butts] in front of him trying to take on blocks.”
3. Vikings fully immersed in Schuylkill League: While football is football to those who reside on either side of U.S. 209, Williams Valley partisans still may need a little time to adjust to a regular diet of Schuylkill League adversaries rather than the Upper Dauphins, Line Mountains and Millersburgs they subsisted on for decades. At the same time, Savage’s program could see another plus as all of the squads on the Vikings schedule could be in play when the District 11 Class 1A playoffs finally arrive — even though Williams Valley has been a perennial contender for postseason gold. “Everyone would always say that the Schuylkill League was more physical and had more talent and I had to listen to that for years, so we’ll see that we now have to play each other,” Savage said. “We’ll find out on the field who the best small school is in the area, so that’s where we’re at right now. We’ve always thought that was us and teams like [perennial 2A hammer Schuylkill] Haven are now on the schedule — so now we’re going to find out.”